Down at the bottom of the Valley. Everyone's always excited to have finally made it to Rainier and Henderson. You can't really streamline the 7 without ruining the point of the route, and it's a longish ride. "We made it to Henderson. This is Henderson Street, right by the High School, Elementary School, got the Community Center here, also grab a 106 or 107..."
"You goin' all the way to Prentice?" someone yells. Oversized jumpsuit and shaved head.
"Oh, yeah! Goin' all the way!"
"Yeah! We made it this far, we're not gonna give up now!"
He settles back into his chair, laughing. A girl in the corner smiles.
Interactions like this might sound utterly negligible in written form. I told someone where the route goes. Great. Or consider me greeting a "straight-up gangsta" with a "hey, how's it going?" and to hear him respond in kind and then say, to himself, "I like that;" it might read like a tiny, throwaway moment, over before it's even underway. I beg to differ. As Hugo wrote, "there are no small moments." The interactions above may have been brief, but they did happen; and what they reflect is something real going on inside the heads of the people involved. There was a shift in their minds, excited, calmed, awakened by an unexpected kindness.
I'm willing to bet that Straight Up Gangsta was not anticipating a courteous hello from the 7 driver. But he got one, and that gesture, though small, indicated something larger- an unexpected attitude coming his way, a lack of judgment perhaps, of being treated on a neutral plane- whatever it was, he was into it. The gestures are transient, but they all mean something. The energy in your eyes, the timbre of your voice, the way your tear that transfer off the cutter- those are not what make people happy or angry. It's the attitudes those actions reveal. I don't need all the passengers to feel happy, but I want them to feel accepted and relaxed. Acknowledged.
Basically, I want the place to feel like a living room.
In the spirit of taking note of small moments, here's a smorgasbord of them from the 7-
"SVI Lady" breaks off from her dealer friends at Martin Luther King when she sees me pull up. We do our special handshake. She's putting her life back together. Whenever we meet, she always tells me how her time at the Vocational Institute is going. Some months afterwards I ran into her again at 5th and Jackson; I have a short break these days there on my 358, and I like to wander around the plaza there and chat up the familiar faces. A lot 7 passengers and drivers pass through there. "You know I be makin' that money, baby," she informed me last week. She had finally got her certificate and a well-paying job in construction.
A guy at 8th and Jackson, pretending to give me a hard time about fare before revealing that "he just messin' with me," as he knows me from before.
James Street, outside the Morrison: "I like that thing you do, man," a dark-skinned middle-aged fellow tells me. "I don't know how you do it." His friend says, "you a little bit too nice!" I help up a man with leukemia off the floor; he doesn't have the strength to use any of his limbs.
A runner, yelling. "WHOA WHOA WHOA," he says. I open the door with my hands in the air. There is a stress in me- I don't care for people yelling at me- and I try to quell it internally. "Dog! Hey, you don't gotta yell at me, my friend! I was already gonna stop!" He gets it, nodding and thanking me as he catches his breath. Then he looks at the passengers and says, "Man! You got so many righteous people on this bus!"
Brian Jobe is driving the 14. I see him pull up at 5th and Jackson, with a full house inside. I hop on for a moment, saying hi to him; then I stare down the aisle at all the passengers. It's a good mixed crowd. Before I know it I find myself speaking to them all: "Guys," I say loudly, with mock seriousness, as if I'm saying something important. "This driver is gonna be Operator of the Year. He's the best driver in the system. Be nice to him, say hello on your way out. He's a good guy." Brian's cowering away from the mirror, laughing. He's not Operator of the Year, but he ought to be. Hope I didn't embarrass him too much.
The Great Mr. Webb is driving the 14. Same thing, different day. He's having a spirited conversation with someone at the front- no surprise there. People start to file onboard. This time I get on, interrupting everyone, yelling "Weeeebbbbb!"
"Nathan, what the hell are you doin' out here?" He's laughing already.
I don't even know why I'm smiling so much. He has an easygoing, offhand sense of humor that jives well with my enthusiasm.
"I don't even know, man! Lez get outta here! Let's go for ride!!"
I can't really do that, of course, because I have to drive my own bus in less than a minute, but he closes the doors and moves the bus forward a few inches. "Alright man, we're doin this, let's go!"
"What the heck are you doin," I say with mock surprise.
As he opens the doors to let me out, I holler out, "Thanks for that great ride, Mike!"
"Yeah, we'll do it again!"
"I had a really good time!"
I say bye to the crowd on the bus. Some of them recognize me. Hopefully they don't mind me clowning around.
Saying hi to Smiling Phil, one of the resident Belltown characters. Sometimes he'll ride a round with me to stay warm. He's a book lover. His little cart carrying his belongings has a broken wheel. I help him haul it on. Later I learned that another operator who knows him bought him a new cart for his birthday (Subsequently, I found out that cart broke as well! Phil, this is getting outta hand!).
Once again, I'm on my break at 5th and Jackson, taking up space. Today the timing is perfect; I'm absurdly late- just late enough to see my old 7 route, the same trip and everything, pull up. William, the driver, recognizes me and I leap on. William has more seniority than me, which is how he got this 7 before I could snatch it at the pick. But nevermind; I'm exuberant. It's my old baby! I know the two passengers at the front, and yell surprised hellos that threaten to sound scary; but I'm honestly just that excited. Again, the source of this ebullience is a bit of a mystery to me. Why is this so exciting? Who knows, but it is. Getting back in my old living room, I guess.
"How's the 358?" William asks.
"AMAZING," I respond. He laughs. "It's unbelievable. Crazy. Almost as good as this. Man, I can't even tell you, I so badly wish I still had this piece on the 7, but I'm glad you got it, cause you're a good man and we want a good man on this thing-"
"Oh, Nathan- you can have it!"
We both laugh.
"I'm gonna be a father soon," a Caucasian man tells me at Rainier and Brandon. He's young, tough, with sun-scarred skin, a lot of sharp edges and tattoos. But his voice is as gentle as can be. "Congratulations," I said at the time. Over a year later I saw him on the 358, clear on the other side of the county, and I recognized him instantly. With him was his girl and a baby basket. "Heeyyyy, dude!" I say. He lights up.
"Is this the new baby?"
"Yeah!" he says, still the same odd amalgam of genial roughneck. He lifts up a blanket to show me the baby, who is cute, pudgy, and sleeping. He doesn't say too much else, but his happiness is palpable. You feel him growing into himself.